• by Wes Singleton

The Hunt - C

Rated R, 115 minutes

The controversial, violent thriller "The Hunt" finally arrives in theaters after being shelved late last summer following a series of mass shootings in the U.S. The film, from "Compliance's" Craig Zobel and co-written by "The Leftover's" Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof, it's a left wing vs. right wing satire, that while modestly entertaining, is unfocused and unsatisfying in delivering any clear messages.

Twelve strangers wake up in a clearing. They don't know where they are -- or how they got there. In the shadow of a dark internet conspiracy theory, ruthless elitists led by Athena (Oscar-winner Hilary Swank) gather at a remote location to hunt humans for sport. But their master plan is about to be derailed when one of the hunted, Crystal ("GLOW's" Betty Gilpin), turns the tables on her pursuers.

The chief highlight of the uneven thriller "The Hunt" is Gilpin, who manages to hold the film together with Ripley-style toughness, and the final fight scene between she and Swank is by far the film's most entertaining action scene. "The Hunt" is certainly controversial in premise, though it feels far different in execution; it could be taken in many ways: as liberal revenge against the conservative zealots, or that the conservatives who always manage to come together win.

As a straight thriller, "The Hunt" would've worked far better, and its political messages seem lost given its source material. It's very loosely based on a 1924 short story "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell, though that story is more about class warfare than politics, and Connell would likely shudder at the film's excessive violence. As well, its references to Orwell's "Animal Farm," with the appearance of a pig named Orwell, are tenuous given its political messages (and "Animal Farm," like Connell's story, is more about class warfare).

The filmmakers do state that "The Hunt" hasn't been changed, though it has an occasional choppy feel to it, not to mention many name actors: Ike Barinholtz, Emma Roberts and "This is Us's" Justin Hartley, all appear only very briefly (Roberts and Hartley's roles are so minimal they're really cameos) and you can't help wonder if many of their scenes were edited out. It also seems an odd choice to keep Swank's character a mystery, only showing the back of her head through much of the film, especially given her prominence in the trailers.

All said, given the hype, "The Hunt" is entertaining, that works OK as a thriller, but disappointing as a political satire, with many of its messages lost or uneven.